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Strange Bedfellows

Businessmen hate politicians as they are always asking for money. But businessmen are also keen to enter politics

Politicians and businessmen have a love-hate relationship with each other. Politicians love businessmen as long as they keep away from politics. Businessmen hate politicians because they meddle too much in their business and are always asking for money.

But, given a chance, businessmen will always join politics, even though that is not what they call it. Rahul Bajaj, who has a habit of lecturing politicians - and others - on anything that comes to his mind, has now become a Rajya Sabha member, though he says he is not entering politics, only public service. And if he becomes a minister, will it be politics or public service?

Most businessmen who have entered active politics have not really made it. During Pandit Nehru's time, there were a few who became ministers but they did not last long.

Tatas, for instance, had provided two of their own men, both of whom became important ministers. Sir John Mathai, who became finance minister, resigned when a bill to set up the Planning Commission was brought in. He opposed it saying it would become the government's Fifth Wheel.

Another Tata man, CH Bhabha, was commerce minister, but he too was soon dropped. Nehru did not have businessmen again in his Cabinet with the exception of TT Krishnamachari, or TTK, who functioned as a politician in business rather than a businessman in politics. That may be the reason why he had a long innings in New Delhi.

In quite a few countries, the dividing line between politics and business is too thin to be visible. George W Bush was a businessmen and that too in a deadly commodity like oil, before he entered politics. His vice-president Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, an oil-related company, though he was always in and out of government jobs. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to be CEO of a pharmaceutical company and made his millions there before he joined Bush in his current job.

Fifty years ago, when John Kennedy wanted a defense secretary, he chose Bob McNamara, who had just taken over as president of Ford Motor Company. When he received the call, McNamara made right for Washington from Detroit, without batting an eyelid. Businessmen and politicians are always playing musical chairs in the United States and nobody gives it a second thought.

But not so in India. Here the two communities are wary of each other, with businessmen left out in the cold looking in, while the politicians enjoy all the power and perks. Of course, this does not stop businessmen trying to gatecrash into politicians' domain, but like other gatecrashers they are soon thrown out.

Most Indians do not trust businessmen, or they trust them less than they do the politicians. This may be due to our socialist background, or the fact that businessmen make too much money and flaunt their wealth. This is not so in the United States, where making money - through business or other means - is considered a legitimate activity and you can flaunt your wealth to your heart's content.

In India, on the other hand, poverty is legitimate, not wealth, and while the poor are venerated, the rich are disdained. Rahul Bajaj is joining the ranks of Dhoot of Videocon and R P Goenka -and good luck to him.